There has been a lot of publicity, pro and con, in the last few years about golden rice, a genetically engineered variety that produces high levels of beta carotene, and can prevent a dietary deficiency that kills almost 700,000 children under age five each year.
The golden rice initiative had its beginnings as a Rockefeller Foundation project in 1982 and the first field trials of cultivars were conducted by the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in 2004. A year later, Syngenta researchers announced Golden Rice 2, which produces up to 23 times more carotenoids than golden rice.
Despite extensive documentation of its safety, golden rice, more than a decade later, has been little used in countries where rice is a staple of everyday diets, thanks to opposition campaigns by anti-GMO organizations. And children continue to die needlessly.
While the controversy over golden rice continues, with no resolution in sight, the U.S. rice industry has been devoting research and money to a processing method that can enrich regular rice to provide essential nutrients to those whose diets are rice based.
It’s called fortified rice, and kernels are either coated or extruded to include eight critical micronutrients, including Vitamins A and B and iron. The modified kernels are then blended back with regular long grain rice to provide a product with optimum levels of nutrition. It looks like, and tastes like, regular rice, and is readily accepted by recipients of USDA and USAID international food assistance programs.
Jamie Warshaw, CEO of Farmers Rice Milling Company at Lake Charles, La., who has served as chairman of the USA Rice Food Aid Subcommittee, said recently, “We believe fortified rice will increase the demand for U.S.-grown rice and will be a game changer for rice growers and processors, for global feeding programs, and most importantly, for the beneficiaries of the improved nutritional qualities of rice.”
Bobby Hanks, president of Louisiana Rice Mill at Crowley, La., has just been named the new chairman of the USA Rice Food Aid Subcommittee, and the organization’s president and CEO Betsy Ward says, “Bobby has great institutional knowledge of food and issues for rice, and will help push for greater utilization of rice in U.S. government food assistance programs.
“There are many legislative and administrative hurdles that we will face in the coming months,” Ward says, “but I’m confident that we as an industry will be successful with Bobby at the helm. We have an excellent product, and rice is the most-consumed commodity in the world.”
U.S. food aid constitutes about 3 percent to 5 percent of U.S. exports.